Let’s talk hypothetically for a moment.
If you were an NBA official and wanted to make sure the Orlando Magic won last night, what would be some things you might try to do? A few quickly come to mind:
In particular, get the Celtics big men into early foul trouble. If the big men are in foul trouble, they can’t be physical with Dwight Howard. Also, with Rajon Rondo being the catalyst for the Celtics offense, and Boston having no real back-up, the officials would want to get him in foul trouble as well.
Now, how would you accomplish this? It isn’t as if the official can just make an Orlando player take the ball to the hoop against one of these players. No, what you would do is call ticky-tack, non-shooting, off-the-ball fouls. It can get teams in the penalty quickly. It can get the players you want to focus on in foul trouble. A perfect combination.
Unfortunately, if you are a Celtics fan, what I just described was not a hypothetical, but it was the nightmare of what happened in last night’s Orlando Magic Game Five win.
Last night’s game will take its place right along side Lakers-Kings Game Six from 2002 as exhibits A and B in the Tim Donaghy taught class of How NBA Officials Impact a Game.
Think I am crazy? Think this is just sour grapes?
First, if you watched with a neutral eye, I find no way you can disagree with me and the obvious impact the officials had on the game last night.
But second, I have actually brought facts to back up what I am writing.
For the game, Boston was called for 30 fouls to just 24 for the Magic. Ok, not a major discrepancy. But, Boston was called for 22 non-shooting fouls, to just 14 for Orlando. And far more important, is when those calls were made and on who.
In the first eight minutes of the game, Kevin Garnett was called for two non-shooting fouls, Rajon Rondo two, and Kendrick Perkins one.
At the 4:26 mark of the quarter, the Celtics were already in the penalty, Garnett was on the bench, and Rondo remained on the floor but could not be as aggressive because of his two fouls.
By the end of the quarter, Glen Davis, who came in for Garnett, had two non-shooting fouls called on him. For the quarter, Boston was called for eight fouls, all non-shooting.
On to the second quarter, with both Davis and Garnett on the bench in foul trouble, the officials went to work on the other big men of the Celtics. It would not take long.
Within the first five minutes of the second quarter, Rasheed Wallace was called for three fouls, two of which were non-shooting.
Mike Breen said repeatedly last night that the officials were calling a tight game. He was half-right.
The officials put their whistles away for long stretches last night when the Celtics had the ball, allowing the Magic to make sure their runs went uninterrupted. Between the end of the first quarter and middle of the second, Orlando went nearly seven minutes without one foul being called.
Not coincidentally, it was during this stretch where the Magic seized control of the game, turning a two-point lead into a 12-point advantage.
For anyone who might say the game was just being called tight, and that was the reason for all the non-shooting fouls, how can you explain Dwight Howard not picking up his second foul of the game until there were just two minutes left in the fourth quarter? Howard is one of the most aggressive, physical, even dirty, players in the league. No chance if the game is being called fairly, and it is being called tight, he emerges with only one foul in the first 46 minutes of the game.
Ok, so the officials have put the Celtics in the penalty early in quarters, got Rondo, Garnett, Davis, and Wallace in foul trouble, and kept the whistle in their pockets when the Magic were on defense.
The answer would be no, as Rush and Crawford then took things too far.
The officials tagged him with three non-shooting fouls in the first half, none of which were on Dwight Howard.
By now, also, we know they also hit him with two technical fouls. If last night was a mid-week game in February, there would be a strong argument that neither one should have been called a technical. But in the Eastern Conference Finals, under absolutely no circumstances can an official call those technical fouls on him. To be fair, the first technical was a double-tech, where both Perkins and Martin Gortat were called for technical fouls.
About a minute later after the first call, with 36 seconds left in the half, Perkins is called for his third non-shooting foul. He reacts. But he also turns away,and starts to walk in the complete opposite direction from the official.
That does not matter. The official “T”s him up anyway.
The official for both calls?
Here is what Bill Simmons tweeted about the calls:
“Wow. I am ashamed to be an NBA fan. Tossing Perkins was an absolute travesty. I’m speechless. 1 of the most indefensible ref moments ever.”
“Perk’s 2 techs: first one was a farce, 2nd one for WALKING AWAY from a ref after a terrible call. Donaghy just signed another book deal.”
Simmons was hardly the only one to voice such complaints. After the game, Jeff Clark from CelticsBlog.com, someone who is known for almost never complaining about the officials, wrote this, “I hate that the refs made themselves the story tonight.”
The second half was not much better. After the officials made a terrible charge call on Rondo (replays clearly showed Jameer Nelson’s feet were not set), Rondo walked to the sideline and tried to talk to the official about the call. Replays also clearly showed Rondo was not in any way talking to Joey Crawford. That doesn’t stop Crawford, who you can see instigating the situation by yelling at Rondo to get to the bench.
Why can’t Rondo talk to an official? Well, if you are Joey Crawford, and want the Magic to win, you come up with a reason.
You would think Crawford’s phantom, made-up call against Marcus Camby from early in these (see below) playoffs would be enough to get him out of the playoffs. Or to maybe humble him a bit.
No. Crawford called Rondo for the technical foul.
Somehow, despite the officials, despite the good play of the Magic (they very well could have won without the officials help), the Celtics were hanging around, trailing by just nine after three quarters.
Don’t worry. For good measure, the officials called the Celtics for five fouls in the first four minutes of the fourth quarter, guaranteeing that Boston could not play aggressive defense the rest of the way, because if they did, any little touch would send the Magic to the free throw line.
For the game, Garnett, Rondo, Perkins, and Davis were in foul trouble throughout. None of them committed a foul on a Magic player shooting the basketball.
And yes, Rashard Lewis and Vince Carter were also in foul trouble for the Magic. But, that is what these NBA officials do. They try to balance things out once they get what they wanted. As for Lewis and Carter, the officials were probably doing the Magic a favor by giving Stan Van Gundy an excuse to bench the two players.
Now the NBA has what it wants – playoff games on the weekend. I fully expect to see a well-officiated game on Friday night. Well, at least an evenly officiated game (it could be equally poor both ways).
I will close with this comment that was sent to me last night. It was posted on an Orlando Magic Fan Site, by an Orlando Magic fan:
“This is the worst kind of win I’d have hoped for and will unfortunately be remembered as one of those asteriks [sic] games predetermined by NBA, like the 2002 Kings-Lakers. Homerism aside, both T’s on Perkins were an utter joke, as well as early ticky tacky fouls on some other Celtics fouls . . . .”
The comment went on about Dwight Howard and his dirty play. I’ll save that complaint for another time.